On Alvin Plantinga's Notion of the Divine Nature
© Scott David Foutz

In Does God Have A Nature? 1 , Alvin Plantinga argues reductio ad absurdum against the classical doctrine of Divine Simplicity, claiming that it ultimately reduces to the proposition God is a property, which precludes the possibility of one of the most fundamental claims of theism, namely, that God is a person. Although Plantinga evaluates other thinkers and schools 2 and their attempts to interpret the problems raised by the simplicity doctrine, the portion of Plantinga's argument relevant to this paper, namely, that portion dealing with the classical statement of the simplicity doctrine, is a response to Aquinas, presumably due to the latter's formulation being the most comprehensive. This paper will examine those portions of Aquinas' formulation which are central to Plantinga's argument, with the aim of gaining an understanding of Aquinas' position and intent, with which we may then better evaluate Plantinga's interpretation and response. The areas of Aquinas's formulation relevant to our discussion are:

(a) the central argument of the simplicity doctrine,

(b) the foundations of divine simplicity, and

(c) God's nature.

On the Relevance of the Simplicity Doctrine

Before beginning our examination of this or that theologian's views on the simplicity doctrine, it will be beneficial to briefly discuss the value or relevance of the project. The classical 3 doctrine of divine simplicity concludes that God is simple in the sense that within Him there is absolutely no division or composite. Some of the possible divisions classically denied of God are those of matter/form, actuality/potentiality, essence/properties, and essence/existence. Each of these denied divisions carries with it a host of implications, many of which appear in the lay person's general intuitions about God. For example, the denial of matter/form composite in God entails that He is not a corporeal being, and thereby is not to be understood as occupying space, nor as susceptible to death (i.e., the breakdown of the matter/form composite). Denial of the actuality/possibility composite entails that the being and powers of God are not susceptible to change regarding their actual versus potential existence. In other words, the love, knowledge and strength of God neither increase (in actuality) nor decrease (by becoming greater potentially). In Scriptural terms, we read that in God there is no change (James 1:17), and in Thomistic term we read all of God's abilities and attributes are therefore fully actualized and without potentiality. These two statements are identical. Such conclusions as these regarding God's being and attributes would probably coincide with the beliefs of a majority of congregations, and ceratinly represent the classical theological view of God.

The denial of the essence/properties and essence/existence composites become immediately relevant to our discussion, for it will be against the denial of these that Plantinga will argue. The denial of the essence/properties composite entails that there is no division in God between His essence 4 and His properties, such as love, wisdom, and righteousness. If such a division existed, it would imply that these properties of love, wisdom and righteousness exist independently of God 5 , and that God as we know Him is therefore to some degree dependent upon them for His character. Likewise, Aquinas explains that if we understand existence to be a seperate property causally derived, and if the essence/properties composite pertained to God, we would be forced to conclude that God derived His existence from an external cause 6 , a conclusion which would contradict the classical Judeo-Christian understanding of God as sole Creator, First Cause, and Necessary Being 7 .

But the denial of the essence/properties composite also possesses some implications which are certainly less intuited among the Christian population. For example, if we were to discuss the man Socrates, we could easily identify and differentiate in him various properties such as human nature, self-awareness, wisdom, life, ability to act, etc.. We would not consider his wisdom as identical with or the same property as his life, nor would we equate self-awareness with the ability to throw a stick. Neither would we want to say that Socrates is identical to human nature, lest we admit that Socrates need be found in every human being. We understand and expect distinct properties to be present in Socrates due to his being a complex or composite being, a condition resulting from the fact that he is causally derived or created.

But according to the doctrine of simplicity, in God no such distiction can possibly exist. Therefore we must say not only that God is to be equated with "God nature", but also with His properties of existence, omnipotence, omniscience, love, justice, etc.. This also implies that in God love and omniscience must be equated, as must omniscience and justice. In other words, all properties which we understand or expect to be present in God are present as a single whole rather than a collection of parts. Furthermore, this single whole of property must be the same whole which constitutes God himself, since there can be absolutely no seperation in God. It is Plantinga's claim that this results in our having to say not only that God is justice but also that justice is God. That is, if we claim that the totality of God is to be equated with a whole of property, we must go the last mile and claim that a whole of property is God. But this, he contends, is far from the Scriptural and classical theological view of God, since a property can in no way be considered a person. Therefore, Plantinga suggests that in God some degree of composite exists, and that certain properties are neither identical with God, nor created by him, and therefore these exist uncreated and outside God's control. In other words, God possesses a seperate "God nature" composed of various essential properties.

From this brief description of the question at hand it becomes apparent that the doctrine of divine simplicity does assume significant relevance in relation to some of the most basic beliefs of the Judaeo-Christian community. In fairness, let it be said that Plantinga in no way desires nor intends to assault these beliefs nor the Christian faith. Instead, he will attempt to demonstrate that the classical statement of the doctrine of divine simplicity ultimately results in a logical fallacy, and therefore an alternative description of the nature of God must be sought whereby these basic beliefs may be supported 8 . We turn now to the argument.

The Central Argument of the Simplicity Doctrine

Aquinas' volumnious magnus opus on Christian theology virtually begins with the discussion of God's simplicity 9 , apparently occupying or constituting the foundation of Aquinas' view of God 10 . But in what way is simplicity foundational in Aquinas' understanding? Is Aquinas' intention to establish God as First Cause? as Necessary Being? as Prime Mover? Identifying Aquinas's central intention in establishing this doctrine at the very onset of his discussion of God will prove necessary in order to determine whether or not this doctrine is actually able to accomplish what it sets out to do. Then, a full consideration can be made regarding what secondary and tertiary implications arise from the establishment of the central assertion.

Plantinga understands Aquinas' central reason for establishing simplicity as "to accomodate God's aseity and sovereignty" 11 . Plantinga justifies this conclusion by citing two of Aquinas' arguments for simplicity: (a) composite implies an external cause 12 , and (2) composite implies dependence 13 . Plantinga explicitly refers to both of Aquinas' arguments as specifically relevant to establishing God's status as First Being, and the first argument as also relevant to God's aseity. From this, he concludes that "perhaps the fundamental reason for simplicity doctrine is that it seems implied by God's sovereignty and aseity" 14

Plantinga then stresses Aquinas's use of the terms dependent and subsequent in the second argument and synthesizes three 15 of Aquinas' arguments to derive a more precise undertsanding of this terminology. He concludes that by subsequent is meant that if a thing has a property by participation (i.e., via composite) then it is subsequent to that property in the order of final causation 16 . In other words, if God is found to contain within Himself a composite of properties, this would necessarily imply that there is some purpose which God's composite existence serves. Furthermore, if God is indeed subject to a higher final cause through His composite nature, then in a very real sense His existence as God is dependent on His possession of these properties. Plantinga understands this dependence as pertaining to God in two ways. First, God is dependent upon the property in the sense that if it is indeed true that God possesses some properties necessarily, then it is the case that if one of these properties fails to exist or be possessed by God, He likewise would fail to exist. This dependence "is necessary; it is not due to [God's] will and it is not within his power to abrogate it. That it holds is not up to him or within his control. He is obliged simply to put up with it" 17 . Plantinga sees the central implication of this as being that God is then dependent upon something else for His existence, and dependent in a way outside his control and beyonds His power to alter 18 . He sees this as ultimately running against God's aseity.

The second way in which Plantinga understands Aquinas' view on the implications of dependence as pertaining to God regards His character. In addition to viewing God as dependent upon properties for His existence (if indeed He possesses a composite nature), we may also view His character as dependent upon the possession of those properties by which He is the way He is. In this scenario, if for some reason God failed to possess, for example, the property of omniscience, He would fail to be the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition and instead perhaps resemble one of the gods of the Roman pantheon. Plantinga understands this as boiling down to God's dependence upon a relation with a particular set of properties, a relation which is neither within God's power to create nor alter. He again concludes that this doesn't fit with God's existence a se 19 .

From the above consideration of Aquinas, Plantinga concludes that the the sovereignty-aseity intuition is the core of the doctrine of simplicity. In his discussion of nominalism, Plantinga fomulates this intuition thus: If God is sovereign and exists a se , then: (a) he has created everything distinct from himself, (b) there is nothing upon which he depends for his existence or character, (c) everything distinct from him dpends on him, and (d) everything is within his control. 20 In his discussion on Descartes, he reduces this formulation to what he perceives the real issue to be, namely, control: If God is sovereign and exists a se , then every truth is within his control. 21 In this sense Plantinga also refers to this as an issue of God's "up-to-ness" 22 .

Although Plantinga does not define the sovereignty-aseity intuition in these terms during his discussion of Aquinas, there is evident from the beginning of his discussion a tendency to emphasize control as the dominant consideration of the simplicity doctrine. The two arguments of Aquinas to which Plantinga initially refers conclude with God as First Efficient Cause 23 and First Being 24 . Clearly, these arguments do pertain to the aseity of God by establishing him as the unconditioned condition from which all else is conditioned. But are these intended to be arguments for God's sovereignty or control? Plantinga thinks so, as we have seen, based on his understanding of the notion of dependence in Aquinas' argument regarding First Being. But is this enough to fill the sails of Plantinga's sovereignty-aseity intuition?

Aquinas's understanding of First Effecient Cause and First Being are initially established in two of his five arguments for or ways of demonstrating the existence of God 25 . Aquinas' intention in the Five Ways is to establish the necessary existence of the Being which we refer to as God. Although the Five Ways will provide us with some information regarding the nature of this Being, they are neither intended nor adequate to provide a full picture of this Being. Rather, having established the existence of this Being, he then turns to arguments through which an understanding of this Being's nature may be explicated. This necessary transition is clearly evidenced in Aquinas' own writings: "We have shown that there exists a first being, whom we call God. We must, accordingly, now investigate the properties of this being." 26 Aquinas introduces his discussion on simplicity with the statement: "When the existence of a thing has been ascertained there remains the further question of the manner of its existence, in order that we may know its essence." 27 This discussion on the manner of this Being's existence is carried out in Summa Theologica 1.3-11, and it will not be until the end of Question 11 that the demonstration of the Judeo-Christian God will have been completed. Therefore, an accurate understanding of Aquinas' entire discussion of God would include the observation that those arguments establishing the attributes of God such as simplicity and omnipotence are organic extensions of the conclusions established in the Five Ways, namely, First Being, First Effecient Cause, etc., and that the establishment of the latter is not dependent upon that of the former.

What, then, can be known of God 28 from Aquinas' argument for First Effecient Cause in the Second Way? First, God, as source of all activity, must be pure form and can contain no matter 29 . Secondly, God must be identical with his essence 30 . Thirdly, God's nature must be identical with his existence 31 . Aquinas, in similar manner goes on to conclude that the First Effecient Cause must also be beyond definition by genus and species 32 , without accidents 33 , absolutely simple 34 , not entering into composition with other things 35 , perfect 36 , good 37 , infinite 38 , omnipresent 39 , immutable 40 , eternal 41 , and a unity 42 .

From Aquinas' Third Way which concludes a Neccessary First Being, he is also able to derive a similar array of attributes, most of which are identical with those stemming from the Second Way 43 . One unique conclusion which Aquinas derives from the Third Way is that which claims in the First Necessary Being there can be absolutely no potentiality. For, actuality precedes potentiality 44 , and therefore, potentiality is derived from actuality. And since the First Necessary Being precedes all other actualities, there could be in Him no potentiality 45 . This conclusion, along with several others will reappear in Aquinas' argument for the simplicity of God, to which we will soon turn. But before we do, we must attempt to resolve the question: Is Plantinga's notion that what is primarily at stake in the discussion of simplicity is God's sovereignty or control? It would seem that thus far we have seen nothing in Aquinas which hints of a concern over omnipotence or control. Rather, the entire question has been what, if anything, might we be able to conclude from the established existence of an Uncaused First Being. The argument for simplicity does not precede the establishment of the Uncaused First Being, but, according to Aquinas, emerges as a neccesary implication of such a Being. So it must be the case that Plantinga either is arguing with Aquinas' conclusion of an Uncaused First Being, or with his conclusion that such a Being necessarily entails simplicity. In order to more fully understand Plantinga's position, we turn now to Aquinas' argument for simplicity.

The Foundations of Divine Simplicity

Aquinas offers five brief arguments to demonstrate that God must be absolutely simple, all of which assume an Uncaused First Being, and each of which is apparently intended to be a sufficient demonstration in itself. The first argument is composed of the collective weight of the six immediately preceding conclusions regarding the Uncaused First Being, namely: (a) God is not a body and therefore in Him there is no composition of quantitative parts 46 , (b) in God there is no matter/form composite 47 , (c) In God there is no nature/ suppositum composite 48 , (d) in God there is no essence/existence composite 49 , (e) in God there is no genus/difference composite 50 , and (f) in God there is no subject/accident composite 51 . The second argument states that the First Being cannot be a composite, since every composite is causally posterior to its parts, thereby implying the composite's dependence upon the existence of the parts. The third argument states that the First Effecient Cause cannot be a composite, since every composite has a cause. The fourth argument states that the Uncaused First Being cannot be a composite, since in every composite there must be potentiality and actuality. The fifth argument states that the Uncaused First Being cannot be a composite, since nothing composite can be predicated of any single one of its parts, yet God has been shown to be identical with His essence and existence. These five arguments constitute Aquinas' development of the doctrine of simplicity. We see that the fifth argument relies upon the validity of (c) and (d) of the first argument 52 , and the third argument hold true only if the second can be established 53 .

Plantinga's argument will boil down to an implicit denial of the validity of the second argument and an explicit denial of (c) & (d) of the first. If correct, he will also have eliminated the third and fifth arguments due to their dependence upon the same principles of the former respectively. He also will attempt to demonstrate the contrary of both the fourth and (f) of the first .

Regarding the latter two, namely, the substance/accident and potentiality/actuality arguments 54 , Plantinga argues that the relational accident having created Adam demonstrates that God possesses some characteristics at certain times and in certain possible worlds 55 , but not eternally and in all possible worlds. He concludes from this that God may possess relational accidents and therefore he possesses potentiality. Plantinga understands Aquinas to be denying accidental properties, and concludes that all properties to be found in God are therefore essential properties. But it is clear that Aquinas is not referring to merely accidental properties, but explicitly refers to essential accidents or properties which are causally derived from internal principles 56 . In addition, Aquinas is clearly arguing against accidents in the Unconditioned Being. The three arguments he offers are: (1) Whereas accidents imply potentiality, in God there is no potentiality, hence there could be no accident; (2) God as identical to His existence is absolute being, and absolute being cannot have something superadded to it; and (3) Whereas what is essential precedes the accidental, God as First Being must precede all accidents, neither could He have essential properties since such are caused by internal properties, and God as First Effecient Cause must precede all other causation.

It is clear that Aquinas is not interested in the relational implications of God's creative activity, but in the necessary implications of an Unconditioned Condition. Plantinga seems to assume that Aquinas here overlooks the possibility that God may act in a variety of ways. And yet, Plantinga admits that in order for him to define having created Adam as a property he must employ "the very broad sense presently customary" 57 . But what does Plantinga's point imply? First, we must assume that he sees Aquinas' formulation as completely unable to accomodate any movement or action within God, for in addition to having created Adam , we may suggest having willed to create Adam , or having not willed to create Adam . Plantinga does not suppose that this observation depends on Adam's corporeal emergence, but on an act or movement of God.

Secondly, since Aquinas' view of substance/accident derives from his understanding of Uncaused First Being, does Plantinga's insistence on the presence of accidents impinge on the Five Ways? It is clear that Plantinga understands the implicit connection between accident and potentiality. How then might he reconcile the Five Ways' Prime Mover with potentiality, or the First Effecient Cause with accidents? Aquinas has been careful to ground his arguments for such attributes of God in his previous cosmological arguments, and therefore the degree to which he was successful is the degree to which Plantinga must wrestle with the the Five Ways if he intends to deny one or more of their seemingly necessary implications. And wrestle he will, for he next moves on to the heart of his confrontation with Aquinas' formulation, namely, the nature/suppositum and essence/existence composites.

God's Nature

As we have shown, the validity of Aquinas' development of two of the implications of the Five Ways, namely, (a) God is identical with his nature, and (b) God's essence is identical with his existence, provides a central support to his first argument for simplicity. These two implications also provide the basis upon which the conclusions of the fifth argument for simplicity may be established. It is not suprising, then, to find that these become the focus of Plantinga's argument. He will attempt to argue reductio ad absurdum against these with the hope of demonstrating the simplicity doctrine to be untenable. Our question of Plantinga will continue to be whether he is able or willing to limit his conclusions to the doctrine of simplicity or whether they intentionally or necessarily impinge on the conclusions of the Five Ways.

In addition to the two implications mentioned above, Plantinga has added two others which he deems significantly relevant: (3) God is His own Goodness 58 , and (4) The Platonic realm of Ideas exists in the mind of God 59 . From (3) Plantinga concludes that all properties which are found in God are to be equated with his essence, and from (4) he concludes that the entire platonic realm, including properties, propositions, numbers, sets, and kinds must likewise be equated with God's essence. From this, he sees two difficulties. First, if every property of God is equated with His essence, then each property must ultimately be identical with every other property. This results in there being only one property , and "this seems flatly incompatible with the obvious fact that God has several properties" 60 . Secondly, if God is identical with His essence, which in turn is identical with each of His properties, we must conclude that God is a property , a conclusion which would preclude personality in God and would necessitate the view that God is a mere abstract object. Plantinga sees these conclusions as the death knell of simplicity and concludes, "So taken, the simplicity doctrine seems like an utter mistake" 61 .

First, let us assume that Plantinga's critique is valid and his conclusions correct. Our initial question of him was what, if any, implications will his conclusions have upon the Five Ways? His first conclusion denies the possibility of equating God with one thing, since this would imply the many things we see in God are in actuality one thing. Aquinas' reasoning behind equating God with His nature, existence and goodness stems directly from his understanding of the Uncaused First Being. For Aquinas, the necessary immateriality of the First Effecient Cause clearly implies His being pure form, from which it also naturally 62 follows that God is His own essence or nature. The necessary causal primacy of the First Effecient Cause precludes the possibility of His nature being caused by external principles 63 , and therefore necessitates the conclusion that God's nature is identical with His existence, or more simply, God is His existence. The necessary pure act of being of the First Being implies His being goodness itself 64 .

It would seem, therefore, that in order for Plantinga to dispute the conclusions, he must also dispute the arguments. And these arguments seem to derive directly from the formulations of First Effecient Cause and First Being. Plantinga denies that God is to be equated with his nature, and thereby seems to imply the existence of internal principles in God whereby His nature is constituted. The existence of such internal principles allows Plantinga to claim that God's properties, as well as the platonic realm of numbers, propositions, sets, and kinds are uncreated and beyond the control of God, yet at the same time possibly subject to "an important dependence" upon God 65 . Their existence based upon internal principles over which God possesses no control accounts for their independence, while the fact that these principles are indeed internal to God accounts for their dependence.

But how does an Uncaused First Being whose nature is caused by internal principles fit into Aquinas' Five Ways. The fog gets thicker as Plantinga explains that one of the properties of God is to essentially exist. Therefore, the internal principles of God cause the nature which includes the property of essential existence. Aquinas saw this as utterly impossible, as it explicitly claims that God caused His own existence. The best explanation Plantinga offers is that there may possibly be an "important dependence" of abstract objects, such as properties, upon God. It would appear that in attempting to avoid a property as God, Plantinga has run headlong into a Self-Caused First Being.

This brings us to a second consideration of Plantinga's conclusion. It would be valuable to ask the question: Why does Aquinas see no problem in equating God with His nature, His existence, His goodness and even platonic ideas, when to Plantinga these equations can result in nothing other than absurdity? When all is said and done, Plantinga merely uses the very arguments Aquinas employs, in order to show its incredibility. How can this be? Are we to assume that Aquinas was not privy to the logical conclusion of his endeavour? I find this almost as difficult to believe as a proposal for a self-caused being. Nor do I believe that Plantinga is merely dreaming on his feet. Therefore, we are forced to evaluate the remaining possibility, namely: There exists a conceptual gap between the two thinkers. Although the justification of this statement leads down the virtually unchartered path toward what may soon be referred to as meta-ontology , it is in our best interest to briefly look at the visible discrepancies between these two thinkers. The first gap appears in Plantinga's understanding of property . 66

Plantinga's various statements regarding his understanding of the term property has proven very enlightening. His first significant mention of property is in his definition of nature as, "a property [a being] has esentially that includes each property essential to him" 67 This statement is followed by another claiming, "the nature of an object can be thought of as a conjunctive property, including as conjuncts just those properties essential to that object. Accordingly, an object has a nature if it has any essential properties at all" 68 . Given the definition of nature as a property containing or conjoining all essential properties, Aquinas' insistence on God's equation with His nature should not seem quite so unacceptable to Plantinga. Still, Aquinas' subsequent insistence that each property be equated with the nature does not accord with Plantinga's definition here. But perhaps an exploration of this latter objection might also prove fruitful.

We must also mention here Aquinas' terminology, which viewed the terms essence , nature and form 69 as interchangeable, dependng on the desired signification. His cognitive metaphysic saw the human intellect as designed to grasp intelligible forms 70 , through which cognition takes place. Speaking of the intellect's cognition of concept's, Plantinga writes: "To say that someone has the concept of being a horse is to say that she grasps or understands or apprehends the property being a horse ". 71 A valuable question to ask may be: What transpires in my grasping, understanding or apprehension of this property? Might there be an actual transmission of intelligible content, or do we merely compare the external shape and coloration of the object with the myriad of previously experienced and remembered objects and thereby construct or derive this conceived property? Plantinga does seem to point us in one direction with his admission that he "assume[s] that there are properties and that knowing what it is to be a horse is to grasp the property of of being a horse" 72 How closely will Plantinga's property being a horse resemble Aquinas' understanding of the intelligible form of the horse? And how closely does Plantinga's grasping a property resemble Aquinas' grasping an intelligible form ? And if these are found to be even somewhat compatible, how might this affect Plantinga's rejection of Aquinas' equation of God and His nature based on the First Being as pure form 73 ?

Plantinga also seems to be very generous in his application of the term property, a tendency which he at least alludes to in his recognition that he is want to "take the term 'property' in the very broad sense presently customary" 74 . Determining whether or not Plantinga maintains this customary broad sense throughout his argument requires a definition we do not possess. But his own usage does outline a parameter of reference. As we have seen, property can refer to a collection of essential properties, implying either that all sets are individual properties 75 or that certain properties are not subject to individuation 76 . Elsewhere, as we also have seen, property refers to the conceptual content either recieved or constructed whereby we recognize a entity 77 . Plantinga also uses property to refer to the act of affirming a truthful proposition, such that God possesses the property of knowing that He does not exist 78 , or the property of affirming the truth of the proposition 7+5=12. This also raises the question of individuation of properties, for if Plantinga views these two affirmations as seperate properties in God, we must necessarily conclude that God has literally an infinite number of properties. For just as God would then possesses a seperate property for each truthful proposition regarding actualities, He must also possess the properties of affirming the true proposition that possible p is possible and impossible q is not possible , etc., ad infinitum . Plantinga might be forced into this conclusion, for if he suggests that God possesses the one property of affirming all true propositions, we would then ask how it is that God knows the true from the false. Three answers present themselves. Either (1) God does it consciously, which would seem to allow God a degree of control over the matter, a view which Plantinga has already disallowed; (2) God does it unconsciously, via internal principles. Yet this will require us to posit some kind of sorting device or subconscious rationality within God's internal principles, if we want to avoid infinite properties 79 ; or (3) God's affirmation doesn't produce any real effect.. This would be equivalent to saying that although God may have the property to recognize or affirm truths, this fact has nothing to do with the existence of these truths, thereby precluding any need to argue for an active affirming by God.

Aquinas' use of property in the arguments examined in this paper is almost non-existent. The only reference I was able to find was is a particular translation of Summa Contra Gentiles , 1.14, which reads, "We have shown that there exists a first being, whom we call God. We must, accordingly, now investigate the properties of this being." An alternative translation reads "nature" for "properties". In any event, Aquinas then turns to a discussion of the same attributes he develops in ST , 1.qq.3-11. Given Aquinas' usage here and lack of usage elsewhere, we are pointed in the direction of the conclusion that Aquinas' understanding of property is indeed a conservative one when compared to Plantinga's usage.

A final evidence for the presence of a conceptual gap can be found in Plantinga's own references to such. Plantinga refers to the significant fact that Aquinas and Plantinga are in fact operating under different ontological perspectives, but as pertaining to his discussion of Aquinas he concludes, "In some contexts this difference may be significant and we must bear it in mind. Here, however, I think it is not significant..." 80 But if the above discussion of the difference and implications of Plantinga's understanding and usage of terms like property can be traced to his relational ontology, I would say that we have presented strong evidence that it is indeed significant in this context. Elsewhere, after making his two damning conclusions regarding Aquinas' formulation of the simplicity doctrine, Plantinga wonders aloud: "Perhaps when [Aquinas] argues that God is identical with his essence, with his goodness, with goodness itself, and the like, he doesn't mean to identify God with a property or state of affairs at all, but with something quite different. If so, it isn't easy to see what sort of thing it might be." 81 I see in this statement the same phenomenon which was experienced in the development of this paper, namely, a genuine disbelief that Aquinas somehow was utterly mistaken in his presentation of the same arguments on behalf of simplicity which Plantinga uses to destroy it. Plantinga's pause and reflection evidences a need for further investigation into the underlying presuppositions and theories of both thinkers, with the hope that despite apparent language and conceptual gaps, a consensus might be achieved whereby the parts are fulfilled in their participation in the whole.


1 Does God Have A Nature? (Marquette: Marquette University Press; 1980) Hereafter referred to as Nature .

2 Plantinga addresses Gordon Kaufman on the problem of language, nominalism on the existence of abstract objects, and Rene Descartes on universal possibilism.

3 "Classical" statement or doctrine in this work will refer specifically to that understanding of divine simplicity as applied to the Judeo-Christian concept of God, and which is best represented by Thomas Aquinas (see Summa Theologica 1.q3.aa.1-8). It is noted, however, that development of this doctrine can be traced through other earlier philosophical and religious thinkers including Plotinus ( Enneads ), Maimonides ( Guide to the Perplexed ) and Pseudo-Dyonisius (e.g., The Divine Names and The Mystical Theology ). Plantinga suggests that it first appears in Parmenides' theory of an undifferentiated plenum. ( Nature , 27)

4 Aquinas defines essentia in two ways: that through which and in which a being has its act of existing ( esse ) ( On Being and Essence , c.i), or that through which beings are defined (i.e., through which beings are placed in different genera and species) (Ibid. c.ii). Aquinas also notes that the term "essence" is sometimes called quiddity because of what the definition signifies, nature insofar as it signifies a things relation to its proper function (pace Aristotle), and form insofar as it determines a thing to a genera, species, etc. (Ibid. c.i).

5 This question of the independence of properties entails much more than those attributes which we are want to ascribe to God. Included alongside properties are a plethora of abstract objects including universal kinds, propositions, numbers, sets, states of affairs and possible worlds.

6 The first portion of Aquinas' argument against the essence/existence composite runs as follows: If the existence of a thing differs from its essence, this existence must be caused either by some exterior agent or by its essential principles (viz., existence as a necessary accident). It is impossible for a thing's existence to be caused by its essential principles, for nothing can be the sufficient cause of its own existence, if its existence is caused. Therefore, that thing whose existence differs from its essence must have its existence caused by another. ( Summa Theologica 1.q3.a4)

7 With "necessary being" understood as that being whose non-existence entails a logical impossibility. From Aquinas' third proof for the existence of God, we understand this impossibility to be that if there were no necessary first being, there would now exist nothin, which is not true. Therefore it is impossible to posit this being's non-existence. ST , 1.q2.a3.

8 The question of whether or not Plantinga's alternative doctrine adequately supports all the implications suggested or supported by the simplicity doctrine will be addressed below.

9 Summa Theologica (hereafter ST ), 1.q.3. QQ.1-2 deal with "The nature and domain of sacred doctrine" and "The existence of God" respectively.

10 Actually, it will be Aquinas' Five Ways (1.q2.a3) which provide the foundation for his doctrine of God. The doctrine of simplicity immediately follows the Five Ways, and itself becomes a type of cornerstone from which Aquinas continues to build his view of God's nature.

11 Nature , 28.

12 Plantinga apparently is referring to a portion of the argument in Summa 1.q3.a4, which he condenses into the following. "Aquinas believes that if God had a nature and properties distinct from him, then there would be beings distinct from him to which he is subsequent and on which he depends; this would comprimise his aseity and ill befits the status of First Being." ( Nature , 28f.)

13 ST 1.q3.a7. Plantinga's footnote, however, mistakenly cites 1.q3.a8.

14 Nature , 29f.

15 Summa Contra Gentiles (hereafter SCG ), 1.21.5; 1.38; and ST , 1.q3.a4.

16 Nature , 32.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid. 33.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid. 78.

21 Ibid. 94. "Every truth" may be understood to refer to propositions of truth. It was mentioned above (n.5) that the independent existence of properties is inevitably tied in with a discussion of the independent existence of other abstract objects, including propositions. For the discussion on Aquinas, we may understand this to mean both that God must control the the property wisdom which he possesses, and that He must control the truth of the proposition "God is necessarily wise", such that He could cause its opposite to be true, in which case God would either be without wisdom or wise, yet not so necessarily.

22 Ibid.

23 ST , 1.q3.a4.

24 ST , 1.q3.a7.

25 ST 1.q2.a3. Otherwise known as the Five Ways. The first way concludes with Prime Mover, the second, First Effecient Cause, the third, First or Necessary Being, the fourth, Maximum Being, and the fifth, Necessary End. The first three ways are clearly versions of cosmological arguments.The fourth way is based on degrees of being, and the fifth is a teleological argument.

26 SCG , 1.14.

27 ST , 1.q3. prologue.

28 This and similar questions assume Aquinas' assertion that the First Being, etc., is that "to which everyone gives the name of God".

29 ST, 1.q3.a2. In a matter/form composite, the form is limited in its activity to the degree that it is limited to its composite with matter. In the First Effecient cause, source of all activity, no such limitation is possible, therefore disallowing the presence of matter in God.

30 ST , 1.q3.a3. Matter is that which individuates forms, and therefore a being lacking matter will be unindivituated, implying that the essence of non-material beings consists of the form alone. As this holds true for all immaterial beings, the same must be said for angels.

31 ST, 1.q3.a4. The First Cause is the Uncaused Being, whose existence is either (a) derived from his internal principles (i.e., nature), (b) derived from external principles (and hence, external to His nature), or (c) identical with His nature. (a) represents a self caused being, whose impossibility we have already mentioned (n.6), and (b) represents a caused being, which cannot possibly pertain to the First Effecient Cause. Therefore, we must conclude that (c) represents God.

32 ST , 1.q3.a5.

33 ST , 1.q3.a6.

34 ST , 1.q3.a7.

35 ST , 1.q3.a8.

36 ST , 1.q4.

37 ST , 1.qq5-6.

38 ST , 1.q7.

39 ST , 1.q8.

40 ST , 1.q9.

41 ST , 1.q10.

42 ST , 1.q11.

43 Willaim Craig states that Aquinas is able to derive 15 attributes from the Third Way alone. The Cosmological Argument From Plato To Leibniz . (London: MacMillan Press; 1980) 195.

44 Except, Aquinas notes, in the creation of caused beings, in which it can be said that potentiality precedes the actuality of the caused being. But the question here pertains to the Uncaused Being.

45 ST , 1.q3.a1. This conclusion emerges as one of the three ways through which Aquinas concludes that God cannot be a body. Since all bodies possess potentiality (for movement), the First Being cannot be a body.

46 ST , 1.q3.a1

47 ST , 1.q3.a2

48 ST , 1.q3.a3. If we were required to avoid Latin, an alternative to the phrase nature/ suppositum would be nature/God.

49 ST , 1.q3.a4

50 ST , 1.q3.a5

51 ST , 1.q3.a6. God's essence has already been shown to be identical with His substance. Therefore, Aquinas was also free to have labeled this the essence/accident composite.

52 Whichin turn are dependnent upon the Third Way's Necessary First Being.

53 Or visa versa.

54 These two arguments stand in relation to each other by the fact that an accident implies potentiality to that accident. A being lacking potentiality, therefore, will also necessarily lack accidents.

55 Namely, this actual world.

56 ST 1.q3.a6.

57 Nature , 40.

58 SCG , 1.38.

59 ST , 1.q15.a3.

60 Nature , 47.

61 Ibid.

62 Whereas the essence of material beings includes their matter/form composites, the essence of immaterial beings, such as God and the angels, includes only the particular being's form. Causally derived immaterial beings still possess the essence/existence distinction, whereas the First Necessary Being is being itself.

63 I need not mention that self-causation via internal principles is impossible.

64 This conclusion follows the understanding that "to be in act is for each being its good". SCG , 1.38. Compare a parallel argument based on desireableness of being in ST , 1.q6.a1.

65 Nature , 146.

66 Despite this brave attempt at a study of terminology, it is with regret that I must inform the reader that I possess no knowledge of Latin, and must therefore operate within the shaky confines of the English translations in any treatment of Aquinas.

67 Nature , 7.

68 Ibid. n.1.

69 And quiddity . On Being and Essence , c.i-ii.

70 Aquinas differentiates between, for example, the intelligible form of a horse, and the form inhering in matter which constitutes the horse. As the immediate discussion pertains solely to cognition, (as whereas I am not prepared to attempt such a feat!), no attempt will be made to attempt a differentiation between Plantinga's understanding of real properties and grasped properties.

71 Nature , 20.

72 Ibid. 21.n.4. emphasis mine.

73 ST , 1.q3.a3. Aquinas does not use the phrase pure form; but I believe this to be implied by the fact that "the very forms [are] individualized of themselves".

74 Nature , 40.

75 In which case there would be properties ad infinitum , given the breadth of application Plantinga tends to.

76 This would have interesting ramifications regarding arguments similar to Aquinas' Fourth Way involving degrees of being, since each unindividuated property would then be distributed through all beings which share in it or possess it to various degrees.

77 This in itself raises a host of questions regarding the process and content of cognition, which we have raised above. Also, if it is true that by grasping a property we indeed cognitively interact with the actual property, the implications of memory would be fascinating.

78 Nature , 140.

79 It would seem that to say God's nature statically knows true from false propositions (without either God's conscious effort or a "sorting apparatus") undermines the notion of affirmation. For in this scenario, what does God's affirmation accomplish? God's activity in this case is better termed recognition . If recognition is not satisfactory, and affirmation is to be emphasized, it seems that God's nature will require a specific property for each truth whereby the nature is motivated and active in relation to the promotion or affirmation of the truth.

80 Nature , 55.

81 Ibid. 53.